Amtgard Rules of Play.

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The Grind
[01/25/2005] [Randall]

I was going to begin this article by telling a story about the way I was five years ago. Back then, I wasn’t that much different than I am today. . . except when it came to big projects. My impulses were short-lived and scatterbrained. A project would come up and seem interesting, so I’d work on it and nothing else until another project came along. And then I’d chuck the first project, never to complete it, as all my time was devoted to that next project. Take this procedure and repeat it over the course of several years and you'd have a good idea of my life -- lots of half-finished projects, all waiting to be completed.

That’s how I was gonna start this article. It was a good start, but something about it bothered me. After rereading the paragraph a few times, it hit me – it’s all a lie. That wasn’t the way I was five years ago. That’s the way I am right now. Yet here I am with several projects under my belt fully completed and several more anticipated for the future. With not much changed, something else must be going on. With that in mind, I decided on a new opening paragraph. Here it is.

Amtgard is a big game with lots of things going on to make the society work. These things don’t happen by themselves, though. Behind each project is a person, and the success of that project depends on their hard work and perseverance. Some goals are small and easy enough to get done quickly, but sometimes you have something that either takes a while or is open-ended. It’s then that you risk facing the grind.

The grind is when a project stops being fun and starts being work. Let’s face it – we all do the things we do because we enjoy doing them, but sometimes obligation, duty, or habit transforms a previously fun activity into something burdensome. The happy tiredness of cleaning a feast hall is replaced by grumpy resentfulness; the pleasure of maintaining your kingdom’s website becomes a chore; the simple act of getting out of bed to go to the park becomes impossible. This is the grind. It’s what we need to avoid in order to keep things going.

Looking back on my original opening paragraph, I see that this is what eventually stopped me in my tracks. A project would no longer be interesting, so I’d just drop it. These days, however, I have a bag of tricks that keep the grind at bay.

The first and best trick is to never go somewhere alone. Get folks involved in what you do! More people means lighter work, but it also means it’s harder for the project to go away because one person lost interest. And it’s even better if it’s something you can make into a social activity. Even the most difficult and boring tasks can be lots of fun if you’re hanging out with friends. Many projects are abandoned because they are daunting or boring, and the simple act of not doing them by yourself helps remove both of those roadblocks to success. The buddy system can save almost any project.

A side-effect of doing things this way is it gives you an opportunity to train a new generation of Amtgarders. The most obvious example is running a feast. Sure, you could cook, serve and clean by yourself, but it’d probably be a disaster and you’d go crazy. Instead, you get a bunch of folks to help you do these things. After a few feasts, you’re still not burned out and they’re getting valuable experience that’ll give them the skills necessary to someday do your job.

A corollary to this trick is to break things down. A daunting project can seem, well, daunting if you look at the completed whole. Thinking of your goals in terms of small, bite-sized pieces makes it a lot easier to get them done and can give you the momentum to carry you to the end.

Some projects, like maintaining a website or holding office, are open-ended in that they have no end in sight or take so long that they might as well have no end in sight. These types of projects are particularly susceptible to the grind. While getting help and breaking things into bite-sized pieces are good tools to keeping yourself on task, it can be more difficult to apply them in these cases. Getting people to sign on to helping with something forever is a bit of a hard sell, and breaking a never-ending project into small chunks, while a good idea, still results in an infinitely large project. In these cases, you need other options.

One trick is to try to do things differently. Things like newsletters, feasts, and tournaments happen over and over again, and if you’ve run several of ‘em, they start to seem the same. This has a benefit – you should be familiar with how to run them – but repetitive projects can get boring real fast. Once they get boring, it’s easy to lose interest and stop doing the work. To avoid this, change things up a little. It’s not hard to put a different spin on a battlegame or a midreign. By exploring different ways to do things you can do in your sleep, you keep them interesting.

A final trick is to just do it. Most projects aren’t intrinsically hard, but they get that way if you ignore them. The classic example is the job of Prime Minister. Entering records each week and maintaining the finances of a park aren’t big jobs. Everyone understands this, so it makes Prime Minister an attractive job for people to run for . . . and then they don’t do it for a few weeks, and before they know it they’ve got dozens of non-entered records and an accounting mess. Through their own failure to stick to the grind, they’ve made a job much harder than it should be. This is something that can be easily avoided by making a schedule and sticking to it.

The grind doesn’t have to wear you down. Like the cliché it comes from, you’re the ax – you can get sharper or duller depending on how you work it. There’s a lot of work to be done to make Amtgard good. With a little determination and a few tricks up your sleeve, you can avoid being worn down by the grind and make it into something that keeps your skills – and love of the game – as sharp as ever.

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